Another Post Piece . . . Paradise Defined

As shared previously, the gals at the Triple Threat Investigation Agency—JJ, Rey, and Linda—have started a creative writing course.  Linda and Rey have provided their pieces; now, JJ’s up to bat.  She did a lot of head-scratching, but finally penned something she’s relatively pleased to post (based upon the homeless folks she’s befriended in and around the agency).

One Person’s Paradise, Another’s . . .

They live amid the banyans, in parks and along shorelines, in man-made tents of cardboard, broken surfboards, and/or plastic fastened with frayed ropes.  Men, women, children, aged a few months, aged countless years.  Poverty and hardship never discriminate.

They saunter along crisp sun-dried grass, scorching white sand, and searing-hot sidewalks under a magnificent blue sky.  A brilliant rainbow arcs across a cove under a delicious lemon-tart-yellow sun.  It whispers of a promise—a better tomorrow—and prompts a smile or two.

Mike believes in those rainbows.  He’ll return to his home state in a little while.  Just as soon as he collects enough cash.  As soon as he stops spending it all on booze.  He likes his drink.  Many do.  But Mike doesn’t drink to toast friends, celebrate, or rejoice in good fortune; he does so to forget, to ease the pain and loneliness.

Mike’s been labeled “undesirable”.  He’s fine with that.  Always has been.  As he says with a weary smile, “It is what it is.”  A few persons he meets on his journey seem to care; they offer a sympathetic smile and a small handout, say hello and buy him a bite.  Others ignore him as if he’s transparent, a street fixture, or dog poo left on a curb by a careless, unthinking owner.

Being homeless isn’t a choice.  It’s misfortune, a disastrous event.  Sometimes such an event can be remedied; sometimes not.  Life is not always predictable and unforeseen/unpreventable circumstances can push people like Mike onto the streets.  As some might claim, “shit happens”.  Like dog poo alongside a curb.

Mike would welcome another chance.  If only he could lay off the booze.  It consumes him as he does it.  Liberally.  He’s a nice guy, with soul and heart.  Sadly, not everyone bothers to find that out, save for those who live with him amid the banyans . . . in man-made tents . . . of fragmented dreams . . . .

Perhaps I’ll provide a “piece” next time (and, in the interim, I suspect I’ll be doing some serious head-scratching myself, LOL).

Another Post Piece Puh-leeze

As mentioned Saturday past, the gals at the Triple Threat Investigation Agency—JJ, Rey, and Linda—have started a creative writing course.  Linda provided her creative piece, Rey’s next on the list.  We saw her pen several pieces on napkins; most landed in the wastepaper basket with a few “choice words” blowing into the blustery breeze.  But, late last night, her pièce de ré·sis·tance was finished (as were JJ and Linda with the unrestrained self-satisfaction).  😉

I Wanna Know, Puh-leeze . . .

◊  why a wide boulevard sidewalk only seems to accommodate a zigzagging 90-pound person who can somehow morph into the width and span of a Hummer?  Try as you might, you can’t seem to meander past. 

◊  how your unemployed (through choice) forty-something friend, still living at home with Mom and Pop, gets away with it?  (And would they like to adopt me?)

◊  if airport baggage handlers bowl 10-pin with your bags?  The more dents and holes, the more points?

◊  why telemarketers call you just as you’re about to sit down to eat or climb into a crowded bus?

◊  why weather and “forecasting” channels spend millions on analytic equipment and can still only confirm that it’s a rain day when it actually starts to fall?  (That one was for you, JJ.  As a former meteorologist, maybe you’d like to speak to that one?  He-he.)

◊  why the boss waits until 4:45 p.m. to pass you an urgent project he/she has been sitting on since 8:15 a.m.?  (That’s for my 9-to-5 chums.)

◊  who actually believes willpower is easy to control?  (I can’t resist a sale.  Never have, never will.)

◊  why, just as you’re ready to blast someone for something stupid they said or did, they share something absolutely (unexpectedly) nice/lovely/kind . . . and all that anger and energy you’ve been amassing as to be put back on the stockpile?

◊  why Murphy and his law is always <bleeping> right?

◊  why what goes around really doesn’t come around?

◊  . . . how come there’s not more love and peace, respect and kindness in the world . . .?

JJ, who’s next, has been sitting at the laptop for the last couple of hours . . . mostly scratching her head . . . and catching up on Facebook friends.

Post Piece(s) Please

The gals at the Triple Threat Investigation Agency have started a creative writing course.  Too funny.  I’d have thought they’d be more interested in martial arts or P.I. Techniques 101, but they said they got “the bug” after writing so many posts.  They asked if they might post a short “fictional” (maybe yes, maybe no) piece over the next week and a half.  Why not?  😊  And, winner of Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock (they always [secretly] loved The Big Bang Theory), is Linda.

Geometrically Dispersed

Her life: a mosaic.  A jumble of uneven, misshapen pieces.  An alcoholic father slumped in one corner, an abusive mother ready to swoop on her prey in another.

She was that square peg.  Never fit into the round hole.  Her school chums were few, her friends nonexistent.  Thoughts always self-contained.  Fun forever self-made.

Creativity existed in newfound words and wide-ranging colors.  Stories and pictures, different to view yet similar in tone.  A collage of scattered, asymmetrical concepts connected in translucent, multi-dimensional form.

Layers of wisdom collected over years.  Slivers of solitude.  Splinters of hope.  Tranquility and liberty within reach, but not embraceable.  A patchwork of memories and dreams . . . geometrically dispersed.

Rey’s up next week.  She’s already [frantically] penning something on a cocktail napkin (the gals are at a beachside bar, enjoying some sunshine).

What Measures Success?

It’s been one of those weeks.  You know them, where too much is going on, and not necessarily right, and a lot is proving more stress-induing than anything else.  It’s one where you suddenly and strangely consider all that you’ve completed [and not completed], not just that week but over the years.  Then that odd, annoying question pops into your head: <bleep>, am I a failure? 

What started this soul-searching desire to determine achievements accomplished/realized?  A need during one of those stress-FULL moments to examine where I am in my [still not-my-own] life, observing others and noting theirs.  It prompted another question: exactly what measures success?

♠  from a writer’s perspective—is it acquiring an agent or a publisher, making a million or two, or being featured in [plastered across] media?

♠  from a blogger’s perspective—having a gazillion followers?

♠  from an artist’s perspective—selling an oeuvre?

♠  from a 9-to-5er’s perspective—surviving the day?

♠  from an entrepreneur’s perspective—earning more cash / acquiring more assets?

♠  from a sponge-off-the-parents person’s perspective—passing another day without work-related anxiety or accountability?

♠  from a 20-year-old’s perspective—finishing college/university?

♠  from a 30-year-old’s perspective—being ensconced in a relationship and/or having a family?

♠  from a 40-year-old’s perspective—possessing financial stability and/or continuing to climb the corporate ladder?

♠  from a 50-year-old’s perspective—having the wherewithal to do what you want when you want?

♠  from a 60-year-old’s perspective—embracing retirement sooner than later?

♠  from a drinker’s perspective—polishing off a few more ounces before bedtime (crash-time)?

♠  from a gambler’s perspective—playing one more game . . . just one more?

♠  from a dreamer’s perspective—hanging on to the dream one more day, week, month, year?

Perspective defines success.  One person’s victory may be another’s defeat.  It’s all in how it’s measured, rather like the half glass empty versus the half glass empty.  So, rather than reflecting on what didn’t happen, embrace what did.

Maybe I haven’t attained all that I’d hoped at this [later] stage.  Life’s not over yet; there are a few more years to come.  I’ve waited this long—I’ve struggled this long.  What would it hurt or cost to do so a little bit longer?   😉   Think I’ll tuck that measuring tape back in the drawer. 

Show & Tell . . . Reiterated

Showing versus telling is a popular topic, though some may call it redundant, given it’s emphasized so often.  Yet this is the aspect [or art] of writing that is so essential to keeping readers interested.  So, let’s reiterate for the record one more time: show and don’t tell.  Engage readers’ senses through physical descriptions and actions.

Many writers are guilty of telling and not showing, particularly when first starting out.  It’s easy, comfortable maybe, to jot down / key in actions as they happen.  Da-da-da-da-da.  Translation: s-t-a-t-i-c.

   A:  John went to the lake to find Jake.  When he got there, he looked around.  The sky was getting cloudy and dark.  He eyed the surroundings again.  There was no sign of life.  He sighed and walked to the small beach but couldn’t see anyone.  Where was Jake?

   B:  Anxious, John hastened to the lake to search for his youngest brother, Jake.  He’d not returned to the cottage after promising to return mid-afternoon.  It wasn’t like him not to call if he’d planned to be late.  Given Jake’s love of the water, however, maybe he’d come here for a long, leisurely swim.  John rushed onto the pier and quickly scanned the rippled water.  There was no swimmer, no boat, nothing.  He surveyed the still surroundings; the park, beach, and pier showed no signs of life, but that was to be expected, given it was early April.  He zipped up his hoodie.  A chilly breeze was blowing in.  The sky was growing increasingly cloudy and gray; it promised rain, perhaps even a storm.  John swore softly, closed his eyes, and drew a long calming breath.  Where was Jake?  Why hadn’t he phoned?

“A” simply tells us what John is doing.  We may understand that he’s anxious, given the sigh.  There’s very little description of the vicinity.  Up and above that, there’s no emotion or action.  “B” demonstrates John’s anxiety through the rushing and scanning, and the attempt to calm down.  We know the time of year and can better visualize the vicinity.

Telling does have its place and merit.  For short passages, a little telling is fine.  Too much of it, on the other hand, can prompt yawn-inducing boredom.  Showing will help paint a [vivid] picture.  When you show, you use physical details and actions and, consequently, yes, engage those senses.  You draw readers into the story . . . enable them to imagine the setting/location . . . and become involved in what’s transpiring.

Showing enables you to [more thoroughly] develop your characters.  Instead of describing your protagonist with a few adjectives, you can detail a scene to render a more complete picture.  John in “A” is looking for his brother but we don’t really know why.  Maybe he cares, maybe he doesn’t, and if he does, maybe it’s because his brother owes him $50 or was supposed to drive him somewhere.  In “B”, we learn it’s not like his brother not to call when something comes up.  John takes a calming breath.  We sense John cares and is worried.

You can reveal character traits through dialogue as well.  Something like this might work . . .

   “Where’re you going?”  Cousin Sarah scanned John’s drawn face.

   “The lake.  Maybe Jake’s gone there,” he responded with a furrowed brow, hastening to the rear door.

   “You worry too much,” she said with a quick smile.

   “He’s my brother,” he said ruefully.  “If I don’t watch out for him, who will?”

   “Hurry back.  It looks like rain’s not far off.”

   John nodded grimly and raced from the modest cottage he was sharing the small getaway with her, Jake, and Uncle Randolph.  They’d arrived two days ago to enjoy a week of fishing, campfires, and relaxation.  Hopefully, all was okay and come six o’clock, the three of them would be seated at the table, eating Sarah’s delicious fish stew with rice.

Dialogue can also flesh out your characters.  The way they speak / respond can tell us something about them.

   ♦  “Yeah, okay, whatever,” Harold said in his usual brusque manner, not caring one way or the other.     ♦  “Ye-es, s-sure, I’d like that,” Barney replied, wishing yet again his stutter wasn’t so pronounced.     ♦  “F that, he’s a loser,” he muttered with a scowl, then proceeded to curse under his breath as he often did when annoyed.     ♦  “Ja, das . . . das is what he . . . reported,” Helmut nodded, struggling to find the right English words.

Do provide details/descriptions, and action, when you show but remember: moderation in everything.  And to keep it interesting [readable] combine long and short sentences and utilize those details as appropriate.

   A:  Seema walked along the veined marble floor, through the long and cold corridor, to reach the chandelier-heavy salon, where the guests congregated, seated on fancy upholstered armchairs and sofas, which were strategically placed along the painting-dense room.

   B:  Seema strolled along the lengthy marble-rich floor of the chilly corridor.  Stepping into a bright, chandelier-heavy salon, she surveyed the guests seated on handsome upholstered armchairs and sofas.  Lovely landscapes lined the high ivory walls and glossy sculptures stood in corners.  She liked that the room whispered of great wealth and didn’t scream it.

Besides “A” being a run-on sentence (if anyone still cares), it has description overkill.  Too much is crammed into one long sentence.  “B” is a little easier on the eyes and, hence, to read.

Think of stories that had you excited, anxious, happy—ones that drove you down the road of adventure at full speed, or prompted a tear of happiness or sorrow.  That’s the goal: to involve readers, to make them never want to put your book down.  Sure, showing and not telling takes time to master.  But, as often said, practice makes perfect.  If there were no challenges, how s-t-a-t-i-c life would be . . . rather like a story that tells, but doesn’t show.  😊

What’s Old is New Again

An appropriate title, and not one that necessarily just applies to fashion, fads, or trends.  In this case, it’s about finding/using old manuscripts and rewriting them so they’re new again . . . fresh, fun, fantastic.

Hi, it’s JJ today.  The Boss will be back soon.

I don’t really write much, just the odd posts, like this one, but I do narrate our cases, as you may know if you’ve read any of them.  The Boss pens them and proofs them . . . and revises them and edits them . . . and then repeats the cycle.  Whew.

She’s written a number of manuscripts over the years.  Many have found themselves stuffed in bottom drawers or crammed in uppermost cupboards.  Cobwebs form and the paper yellows with age.  They weren’t great, but they weren’t that bad that she felt compelled to trash them.

She’s not alone.  In fact, a FB friend posted the other day that he pulled out an old one he’d started writing years ago, while still learning the ABCs of writing.  His thought was to rewrite it entirely.

As a non-writer, I’d find that very daunting.  However, upon subsequent thought, the “foundation” is already there.  If the plot/storyline is a decent one (you’re pleased with it and/or see potential), why not simply do a major in-depth edit?  That might sound challenging but, if nothing else, it’s a great exercise.  You’ll have an opportunity to practice your editing skills, and you’ll get to “touch up” the original piece of art by making it more colorful, exciting, animated, and vibrant.  It’s rather like taking a simple LEGO house and building it into a multi-floor LEGO mansion.

The other option is to take that original manuscript, re-read it, and note which parts work well or are worth keeping and/or can be added to an entirely new book.  The Boss has done this on at least two occasions.  We’ve heard her say—gratefully, and with a little relief perhaps—that she’s so-o glad she kept all her old writing.  That makes sense.  Why toss out something you’ve poured your heart and soul into?

Those old manuscripts serve as a great way to see how far you’ve come (developed) as a writer.  Maybe they’ll promote chuckles or laughter, maybe grimaces or winces.  That’s okay.  All writers begin somewhere.  No one’s born an expert or is so skilled that the first thing he/she writes is a masterpiece.  It takes time to become the best that we can be [at whatever career we choose].  All beginnings denote the start of something great—the fantastic path to fulfilment.

Keep writing—and rewriting.  Look to the past to see what you can bring to the present.  Perhaps Morgan Harper Nichols (American Christian musician, songwriter, mixed-media artist, and writer) says it best: 

One day you will look back and see that all along you were blooming.

Poka-Polka-Poke

It’s Linda on poka-polka-poke post patrol today.  So many topics, so little time.  Or is that so few topics, too much time?

It’s been a weird week, and an eye-opening one.  Not that anything earthshattering or overly enlightening caught me by surprise . . . other than . . . I got poked!  You know, I must live in a Facebook vacuum of some sort, because I’d never heard of this before.  And it’s been around for a long while.  Who knew?  Yours truly didn’t.

So, as I now understand it, pokes were/are there to remind people you’re still around.  It’s “old-school” Facebook (2004 is when the poke was first launched).  Ok-kay.

You can still see and send pokes, you know.  To do so, just visit your pokes page.  Yeah, I know, like really?  I had no clue one existed.

There are three main reasons you might have wanted (might still want) to poke someone.  One: to introduce yourself (instead of sending a long message with/without pics to express keen interest).  Two: for the sheer fun of it.  Ok-kay.  Three: simply to say “hi”.  Isn’t that what we use Messenger for today—to remind friends we’re here?

I took a gander and found the poke page relatively easily by going to “Search”.  And I must confess, I was rather tempted to poke every last person on the page . . . so I did.

It was kind of fun.  Poka-poke-poke.  And, oddly enough, for some bizarre reason, I felt a desire to put on a lively/fun polka as I was doing so.

If you’re in a poking mood, add some “mood” music, and have it it.

Gotta Love them Freebies

Hey, it’s Rey.  So, we’re back on posting duty for the next week and a half.  Me first, then Lindy-Loo, then Cousin JJ.

The Connecticut Corpse Caper (Triple Threat Mysteries Book 1), our first unofficial case—where strange doings and dastardly deeds got us wanting to become private eyes—was recently added to the Free Books page on the Next Chapter website.  Woo-hoo.  Gotta love them freebies.

So you have a clue . . . a bunch of inheritance recipients are gathered for a week-long stay at JJ and my wacky aunt’s estate.  There’s a resident ghost, a bunch of secret corridors, weird sounds, and things (and people) that go bump in the night—like dead bodies.  Suspects abound, as does the weirdness; we amateur sleuths have our work cut out for us!

Why are those bodies dropping, you wonder?  Well, two-hundred thousand dollars is to be awarded to every person after he or she has stayed the course.  Should someone leave, regardless of reason, his or her share will be divided among those remaining.  Someone, obviously, wants to make sure that inheritance won’t be shared.

If you’re interested in learning what happened—like how we solved the complex crime—you can find Corpse here:

https://www.nextchapter.pub/free-books

As an FYI, there are currently over 50 series starters available, and more are being added weekly.  Just thought I’d give NC a little plug, too.  😉

Don’t Take it Personally

Writers and bloggers need to have thick skins—because criticism of the non-constructive variety, no or few likes, and limited followers can prove discouraging.  And being discouraged may prompt us to stop writing and posting.  How would we ever grow/develop if we let negativity [or something we deem negative] “influence” us?  How would we realize our dreams if we let someone or something affect our progress?

Taking criticism personally, on any level, in any profession, is of no-value add. Sure, it hurts.  In fact, it bleeping stings [I’m still applying hydrocortisone cream in an effort to quell the prickling].  And maybe we even get pissed off (a great phrasal verb that says it all).

Emotions have their place, but not when they affect our professionalism or conduct.  We should never respond similarly if we’ve been criticized or drag ourselves about the place with our tails between our legs because we didn’t receive the response(s) we’d wanted / hoped for.  So what if someone didn’t like a story or post?  So what if no one read said story or post?  But, alas, we do.  I do (this I readily confess as I rub on that hydrocortisone cream because that damn stinging won’t cease).

A fundamental fact: we can’t please everyone.  And we shouldn’t try to.  Maybe, just maybe, something we’ve written simply didn’t gel with anyone.  It happens.  That’s okay.  Use it as a learning experience.  Why might no one have responded or liked a particular post or work?  The tone?  Topic?  Shoddy writing?  Amateurish approach?  Or did it simply plop into someone’s inbox . . . among the many.  We can’t always read them all.

If you’re really bummed out about it, give it some thought—and try a different approach next time.  And if there’s truly nothing wrong with that piece you’ve so diligently crafted—at least, that you can determine—move on.

Was the criticism unjust, angry, ugly?  Understand that the criticizer is like the rest of us—far from perfect.  Maybe he/she was having a bad day.  Or took umbrage at something you stated, or umbrage at something totally unrelated and vented—at you.

No followers or likes?  You want them?  (I do!)  It saddens you that you don’t have any or many?  (Saddens me . . . a lot.)  Some folks seem to receive a gazillion likes, while some of us seem to get very few, if any.  So, what are we going to do?  We’re not going to let it get us down.  Sure, we can make it a full-fledged quest to acquire those likes, but it’s always possible that no matter what we attempt, they don’t/won’t come our way.  Know this: it may not be our fault.  There are many reasons why those likes and/or followers may not be possible (and some have to do with hashtag performance, posting times, and content shared, but that’s another post), but one of the many ones?  Many people tend to read and like posts of—or follow—people that are already pretty popular.  Simple fact.

Whatever the case, don’t brood.  Moping has no merit.  Why waste the day with a heavy heart?  Recognize that events—or non-events—happen for a reason and, generally (hopefully), make us stronger, better . . . and help us develop that thick skin.

What’s important [and necessary] is that we realize responses [or lack of] are not a reflection of who we are or what we necessarily write/post.  Never allow lack of likes, or non-constructive criticism, crush your self-esteem.

Give yourself a pep talk and a much deserved pat on the back—you’ve come far and you’ve got a distance to go.  Journey [move forward] with pride . . . and don’t take it personally.

Happiness is What You Make It

I’ve been reflecting a lot on life the last few weeks.  How insane it can prove.  How trying, challenging, difficult, dangerous, sad, maddening.   How uplifting, pleasant, fun and fun-filled . . . and how <bleeping> swift.

The daily visit to my mother at the long-term facility is proving an eye-opening undertaking.  It’s a journey through time—that of the residents and that of mine.  In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten to know the names of most of the staff and the thirty-some residents on that floor.  We may not be close, but there’s a teeny-weeny connection.  So, when one of the residents passes, it rather hits home in some inexplicable way.

I bring my mother a coffee and cookies an hour before breakfast is served and sit with her as she watches the bustling downtown view from the small dining room.  We chat about the weather, traffic, rude residents (those who make loud sounds annoy her)—oops, pardon me.  Fellow “hotel guests” is how she views them.

Happy to extend a helping hand whenever possible, I assist with dish clean-up before taking my mother for a walk in the long, maze-like lobby.  It’s not the same as a stroll in the neighborhood, but it’s something.  Weather permitting, and virus outbreaks aside, maybe, just maybe, outdoor strolls will become a possibility.

The majority of the “guests” don’t seem as alert or aware as my mother.  Many sleep away most of the day.  A few are spoon-fed.  The odd one cannot speak and many are hard of hearing.  A handful engage in conversations only they are privy to.  I suppose that’s inevitable when dementia enters the picture.

It’s a secure, strictly run facility, but those residing within receive much-needed care 24/7.  It’s a tiny, enclosed world—but it’s a safe one, and it’s theirs.  They have the opportunity to partake in activities, watch movies/TV, listen to music, and participate in social happenings.

At first, it made me sad to watch, to recognize that their days are truly numbered.  But happiness is what you make it . . . and the staff and caregivers (and family members) do their utmost to make it the best that it can be.

That many smile and/or wave, even laugh, is heartwarming; now and again, happiness rears its cheery, lovely head.  Perhaps it’s short-lived—much like life—but happiness is what you make it.  Appreciate and embrace it.

♥  Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.  ♥   

Robert Frost (American poet)

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